There’s a significant amount of evidence in relation to the impact alcohol-related harm places on workplace absenteeism and productivity. This is in addition to the evidence on how alcohol harm simply affects physical and mental wellbeing.
‘Alcohol related harm’ can be defined as any level of drinking above recommended guidelines. The lower-risk guidelines are defined by the NHS as drinking no more than 14 units per week for men and women. Drinking above recommended guidelines presents different types of health problems for employees:
- Drinking between 22–50 units (men) or 15–35 units (women) per week – defined as ‘Increasing Risk’ – likely to raise risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes by up to twice as much compared to drinking within guidelines
- Drinking over 50 units (men) or over 35 units (women) per week – defined as ‘High Risk’ – likely to raise risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes by up to 3–10 times as much compared to drinking within guidelines
- Regularly drinking three pints of beer or three glasses of wine four times a week would put you in the High Risk category. Unfortunately, keeping track of your drinking is not easy and many employees are simply unaware of the risks.
Alcohol is everyone’s concern. In the context of work, not only does it damage the misuser’s health, but it can cost employers through absenteeism and reduced productivity
— Health & Safety Executive
What is Proven to be Effective in Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm at Work?
Thankfully there is also good evidence on what supports behaviour change among individuals who drink too much.
Having an up to date alcohol policy is associated with organisations experiencing reduced alcohol problems at work and embedding alcohol health promotion as part of a general package of health promotion is seen as acceptable by employees.
NICE and World Health Organisation evidence shows that helping people understand exactly how much they drink and what that means for their health leads to behaviour change.
Providing employees with information to assess their own drinking levels helps them to better understand the health risks and cut down if needed.
Checking your drinking levels can be done online, with a scratch-card (or questionnaire) or with a health advisor at a health fair. Employees should use the NICE recommended screening tool called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) .
The AUDIT tool is 99% accurate in identifying health risks as a result of excessive drinking. Employees should then be offered personalised and confidential advice about how their drinking may be affecting their health as well as tips and advice about cutting down if needed.
The AUDIT questions and results can be anonymous and used in any setting, either face to face or online.
- US research has shown that over a four-year period, for every £1 spent on offering employees the AUDIT tool, companies saved £4 in sickness absence costs, absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’ and recruitment.
- A UK study of workplace health found 92% of staff were happy to be asked about their health, including questions on drinking as part of a survey from their Occupational Health team.
- According to UCL, online alcohol interventions in the workplace offer advantages of anonymity, privacy and scalability. A further advantage is ongoing open access to online interventions.
Employees who need further support should be signposted to both internal and external avenues of advice, information and counselling. Working in this way, employers will greatly reduce the risk of problem drinking among their workforce and improve the health and wellbeing of all employees.
We have a free, updated Fact Sheet on Alcohol and Worplace Health with a full list of references.